Pixel Shifting in Ushguli


Nothing like a trip back to Ushguli, my winter home from 2007-9, to cheer me up. I went with some friends and their American guest, carefully masked, for a night. They had business there with friends of theirs, looking for a secondhand 4x4 vehicle. I had business with the landscape, as usual, my former hosts being away at the moment.

We had to wait over two hours between K’ala, the last village before our destination, and Ushguli, while some more rockfalls were cleared. This time, two caterpillars were involved, one at each end of the blockage, and two climbers were roped up above them, knocking down more of the rotten rock which road-widen explosions had exposed.

They had said three hours, so we got off early. It was quite something to see those scoops moving small-car-sized chunks of slate to the road’s edge and down towards the Enguri river far below. If they slid instead of rolling, some of them slowed down on the slope and didn’t make the river. The rollers, though, practically bounced, and if they didn’t shatter into their component fragile layers, hit the water with almighty splashes.

Once the fallen wall of rock was stable enough not to pour down onto and over us, and a brand new road section had been flattened out sufficiently for our Delica, we were given the go-ahead and drove through the mess and into freedom. Twilight was already coming down as we got into Ushguli, and there would be more exploding and road closure tomorrow, they told us; don’t overstay!

Warm welcome near the top of the village, shown our rooms, plenty of hot food in a very cozily warm room where the big Svan stove was doing its duty. Three generations aged about 10 to 90 share the house. My room wasn’t able to have a heater, but I said I’d be fine with enough covers, and that was indeed the case. What’s +2 degrees C (said my thermometer) when I’d spent part of two winters earlier in a room down to -4? I slept like a hibernating bear, then and now!

The golden dawn light showed most of Mt. Shkhara above the village, Georgia’s highest peak above Europe’s highest village, right from my own window. Time to experiment with a new technique in what is called computational photography: Pixel Shifting.

If you take four hand-held photos of a still scene moving as little as possible (not on a tripod), the movement (shift) between them is crucial. In the computer, stack the set as layers; enlarge them 200% each, length and width (= 4 times the area). Align them, then set the program to give less and less opacity to each layer compared to the one below it: 100%, 50, 33, 25. Flatten the layers, sharpen, and you’ve used the set to make an image 4 times larger than what your camera can do with a single shot, and just as sharp as that one frame would be. If you have the space and money, print that thing huge and enjoy.

My laptop’s 16 GB of RAM are just enough to do this, if only my photo editing program is running and nothing else. So far I’m pleased with the results, and as memory storage is only decreasing in price while it grows in size, space is not a serious issue. There are some things which we could do in the darkroom and now emulate by computer; but this is something else. It’s not needed for every photo, but for the best ones, it can really show them off at breathtaking scale. My new favorite trick.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer and photographer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at www.facebook.com/groups/SvanetiRenaissance/

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri: www.facebook.com/hanmer.house.svaneti

By Tony Hanmer

03 December 2020 18:15